PISTON leader arrested

MANILA — Senator Grace Poe on Tuesday questioned the timing of the release of the arrest warrant against jeepney drivers and operators group PISTON president George San Mateo.

Poe, chair of the Senate Committee on Public Services, said that although she respected the independence of the courts, the timing of the release of the arrest warrant “casts doubt on the intent of the complainant in filing such charges.”

It may be recalled that the Quezon City Prosecutor’s Office filed the complaint of the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) against San Mateo before the Quezon City Metropolitan Trial Court for leading a transport strike in protest to the public utility vehicle modernization program (PUVMP) last February.

San Mateo is facing a charge for violation of Commonwealth Act No. 146 or the Public Service Act for allegedly encouraging jeepney drivers and operators not to provide rides to commuters in defiance of the government.

The nationwide transport strike resulted in the suspension of classes and work in affected areas due to the lack of public utility vehicles that would ferry stranded commuters.

Poe pointed out that everyone has the right to peaceably assemble and that it is still unclear based on the cited section of the Public Service Act (PSA) what exactly San Mateo violated.

“If holding a strike is tantamount to a violation under any memorandum of the LTFRB, then the proper penalty should have been a fine or suspension or cancellation of their franchise, not threatening their leader with incarceration,” Poe said in a press statement.

The senator said that the PSA should be revisited and studied carefully to result in a more balanced interplay between public service.

Meanwhile, Poe said that transport officials and PISTON would be meeting in a dialogue in the Senate scheduled Monday (December 11).

“With their entire livelihood at stake, the least we can do is hear them out,” Poe said.

She also stressed that the PUVMP should be “borne from a democratic process and not from underhanded tactics.”

“It is through the labor and industry of these jeepney drivers and operators that our commuters are able to travel from one point to another despite the failure of the government to provide better mass transportation options,” Poe said.

The PUVMP requires jeepney units that are 15 years old to be replaced with Euro 4 engines or electrically-powered engines with solar panels for roofs and to be equipped with closed-circuit television cameras, a GPS navigation system, an Automatic Fare Collection System, speed limiters, dashboard cameras, and Wi-Fi.

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